- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

A homosexual activist who is serving as a principal job applicant screener at the Pentagon is leaving his consulting post as early as this week.
The pending departure of Stephen E. Herbits comes as several Republican lawmakers have complained to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about Mr. Herbits tenure and have slowed the Senate confirmation process of key Pentagon personnel.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, Mr. Rumsfelds spokesman, said Mr. Herbits recently informed the secretary he planned to leave in "the period immediately ahead."
"It is absolutely not true that he is leaving because of pressure from the Hill. That is flat untrue," Adm. Quigley said. "He will leave at his own request and at a time mutually agreeable to the secretary."
The spokesman added: "The secretary is grateful to Mr. Herbits. He values highly his advice, counsel and assistance that he has provided the department and the secretary over this period."
Mr. Herbits, who advised three previous Republican secretaries of defense on their transitions, has worked as a Pentagon consultant since Feb. 7. Regulations allow government consultants to work 130 days in one year, continually or at staggered times.
Congressional sources said Mr. Herbits presence at the department was prompting the Senate GOP leadership to slow the nomination process for Pentagon appointees at the very time Mr. Rumsfeld needs them to conduct budget and policy reviews.
His exit comes after some prominent GOP senators complained that "the Pentagon seems to be turning away a lot of good people," said a congressional source who requested anonymity.
Some senators are upset with the relatively low number of GOP Senate aides winning senior policy and budget jobs at the Pentagon.
Mr. Herbits supporters counter that he has helped in the hiring of a number of conservative defense thinkers who strongly support the presidents missile-defense plan, a modernized military and a tougher line toward communist China.
The sources said the Herbits issue was raised May 3 when Mr. Rumsfeld met privately with three Republican senators instrumental in writing a defense budget: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska and Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner of Virginia.
Sources said there were two main agenda items: the lack of communication from the Pentagon about an ongoing "top-to-bottom" review and the timetable for Mr. Rumsfeld to submit a completed fiscal 2002 budget.
The defense secretary is awaiting the reviews initial results before asking the White House to increase the pending $310 billion 2002 budget. The delay has left the two Senate committees who oversee the military waiting for budget details before they can begin drafting a spending plan.
The sources say questions about Mr. Herbits role is one reason the GOP Senate leadership has slowed the process of approving President Bushs nominees for top Pentagon jobs, including assistant secretary for public affairs, acquisition czar and comptroller.
Sources said Friday that Mr. Herbits would leave his job as "special assistant to the secretary" earlier than planned — a contention Adm. Quigley said is not true.
Social conservatives complained loudly last month when they learned Mr. Herbits was playing a critical role in screening Pentagon job applications. Mr. Herbits opposes the militarys ban on open homosexuality in the ranks. There is no ban on homosexual civilian employees within the Defense Department.
Politically, Mr. Herbits has supported liberal Democratic candidates as well as conservative Republicans.
Mr. Herbits has a history of working for Republicans, including Mr. Rumsfeld, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Caspar Weinberger. He helped all three in their transition periods as defense secretary, including Mr. Rumsfelds first tenure in the mid-1970s.
"Secretary Rumsfeld asked Mr. Herbits to come to Washington to assist him during a brief transition period," Adm. Quigley said.
Since Mr. Herbits stint with Mr. Cheney in 1989, Washington has waged a protracted debate over homosexuals in the military. Homosexual groups have challenged the ban to no avail in Congress and the courts. Mr. Rumsfeld has said he supports the current prohibition known as "dont ask, dont tell."
"An administration that has pledged to uphold the moral order has no business … advancing the homosexual agenda through appointments. People are policy," Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, said upon learning of Mr. Herbits job duties last month.
But homosexual rights advocates applauded Mr. Rumsfelds appointment. "Secretary Rumsfeld recognizes that sexual orientation is irrelevant for employment in the Defense Department," said David Elliot, spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

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